App Happy

WITHIN THE SPACE OF LESS than a year, I have gone from a smartphone disdainer to a smartphone … user? enthusiast? Dare I say addict?

That last descriptor is perhaps a touch harsh. Let us say instead that I have a new appreciation for the wonderful world of apps. My own ‘phone has them divided into six home-screen groups: “Connexions” (local media, mostly), “Tricorder” (sensors and general knowledge-bases); “Astro” (star maps and related information), “Dispatch” (fire/medical alerts and trackers of earth, sea, and sky traffic), “Judaica” (Jewish texts sacred and secular), and “Utils” (such essential system features as Clock, Calendar, Calculator, Contacts, &c).

Do I use them all? I either do now, or conceivably will. Who knows when I may need to Zoom with someone, or see what’s doing at our town library? Identify a birdsong or a cloud, translate something into or out of an unfamiliar tongue, or use appropriate first-aid techniques? Check when next the International Space Station whizzes by? Catch a bus or a plane, or avoid the next disastrous wildfire? Look up an obscure Torah reference? Take voice-to-text notes? The Internet has given us instant everything; our ‘phones now give that to us instantly everywhere.

It’s easy to go overboard, though, and I am struggling manfully not to do so lest I become a “cyborg,” my private and perhaps unkind name for those of us stuck to our phones even while walking down the street. That almost happened last night, when I found myself sitting on the couch, scrolling through grocery coupons in a dim haze. The thought occurred: “Is this /really/ how I want to spend my time?” and truth to tell, I couldn’t uninstall the relevant app and drop the phone fast enough. It’s insidious, and the memory still makes me feel psychically soiled.

Like junk food, social media have been engineered to be addictive, delivering little non-stop dopamine hits to suck us all into a downspiral of obliviousness, and it would not surprise me to learn if our ‘phones do the same. They are fine tools — a sort of infinitely customizable, technological Swiss army knife — but if we’re not careful, bad things can happen. Let us use them wisely, and not unwell.

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